Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

The Old Comrades:

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Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Governed by men, not laws. (Part the Zillionth.) In this post from James Bartholemew's blog a correspondent describes the arbitrary rule of the inspectors of care homes for the elderly.

The above was found via CrozierVision. Patrick Crozier also bounced me over to The Road to Euro Serfdom where I read this entertaining post about what to call the killing of the unborn EU constitution. The EU Serf seems full of the joys of spring for some reason.

In turn, EU Serf tempted me to perform an act that seemed curiously inappropriate for this sunny half-term day in which the air rings to the boing of the trampoline (£99.99 Argos special offer) and the merry cries of children ignoring safety regulations: I read the paper. Mark Steyn.

The alleged incompatibility of our dissatisfactions makes the point: all politics is local; despite the assiduous promotion of the term, electorally speaking there is no such thing as a "European".

I will stop adding extra bits to this post and go away now.

Glossing over what Southern Democrats used the filibuster for, again. Rand Simberg spotted a prime example from ABC News. It started off as:
The filibuster has been used historically by the minority party, which can't win with a vote count. Democrats have opposed the filibuster before — in the 1960s, they accused Republicans of using it to block civil rights legislation.

According to the Senate Historical Office, the record for the longest individual speech is held by the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Someone noticed and it was altered to:
The filibuster has been used historically by the minority party, which can't win with a vote count.
There follows the same paragraph about Thurmond as before. Simberg comments, "Still no mention of Thurmond's political affiliation at the time, but at least they're not explicitly blaming Republicans for blocking the CRA." Several of his commenters observe that the observation about the "minority party" is still wrong in the context of the CRA. Another commenter, Charlie from Colorado, says:
By the way, isn't it interesting that the party affiliation was important in the first version of the story, but went away in the next?

More about Charlie's very perceptive comment later. First some of you may wonder why I have devoted three posts to a misunderstanding about events in a far country that took place coming up to half a century ago, particularly given libertarian opposition to abridgements to freedom of association.

Well, first and foremost, it is because I am a pedant. Of course there are situations when to be first would not be foremost, for instance when passengers are leaving a bus by the rear exit, but on this occasion it is both. By this I mean pendantry as a factor is indeed first and foremost in an imaginary hierarchy of factors in my mind. Not literally, you understand! I do not claim that pedantry has a physical location in the frontal lobes of the brain. I suspect it is a distributed phenomenon. This particular distributed mental phenomenon has the unfortunate effect of making me want to seek out people who mis-state particular historical facts and rip their arms and legs off.

Secondly, getting back to my individually-targeted downer on Senator Robert C. Byrd, it really ought to take most of a lifetime to live down having said this:

"Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds."
After seeing that quote mentioned in the Biased BBC comments I had to check before I believed it. It is fair to cut Byrd some slack for holding racist beliefs at a time and place when such beliefs were common. But that particular quote becomes more, not less, strikingly offensive when placed in historical context. It was written shortly after World War II. The thing that Byrd would rather see his country's flag trampled in the dust than do was serve in the military "with a Negro by my side."

Thirdly, and in this I am seconding Rand Simberg's commenter Charlie, it's funny how it is always this particular little factoid - that Byrd and, at that time, Thurmond were Democrats - that is fudged. One could argue that the whole thing doesn't matter: the uses to which filibusters are put, both the US parties, and the US itself, are all very different now. But if you are going to have a paragraph heading called "Historical Perspective", then have all the historical perspective. If you are going to have all that admiring stuff about Byrd being so learned in the details of Senate procedure, then say how he got that way.

How did the authors of the ABC piece come to make their howler in the first place, despite being confident enough to submit a "primer" on judicial nominees and the filibuster to the public? My guess is that they simply passed on the faults of the source material they used in order to research their article. It is possible to be generally well-informed yet miss the fact that the Civil Rights filibusterers were Democrats because of dozens of separate, uncoordinated decisions by generally left-leaning authors of textbooks, newspaper columns and news websites to slide over the one part of the Civil Rights story they don't like telling.

(I re-wrote and expanded the final paragraph at about 6pm BST.)

Saturday, May 28, 2005
Wannabes. A very small silver lining to the very large dark cloud that overshadows these violent times is that the war on drugs - that is to say the "war" on a particular form of unhealthy behaviour - no longer gets the prestige it once did. I think someone is feeling left out.

Police have claimed new successes in the war on drugs in central Scotland.

Officers have swooped on nearly 20 homes in the Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire areas in the past week as part of Operation Overlord.

They called it Operation Overlord?

ADDED 11AM: This morning I gave this post a catchier title and cross-posted it to Samizdata.

Friday, May 27, 2005
George Galloway doesn't know what the internet can do. This blogger does. Making use of WHOIS list of domain names and the Wayback Machine internet archives, "Seixon" relentlessly examines one claim of Galloway's senate testimony, that he "emblazoned" on the Mariam Appeal website that Fawaz Zureikat was doing vast amounts of business with Iraq.

Via Damian Penny and LGF.

A good thought from Thought Mesh:
A question that frequently arises among those with a clue is “why doesn’t anyone imitate the founding of the USA, given its remarkable success?”. Instead, the founders of new governments seem to prefer to follow the lead of failed and failing states, such as the USSR or Old Europe. Why? The American Founding Fathers, to their immense credit, managed to do a very good job without an example or prior validation of their view on government. Now, centuries later, when their vision has been proven right so dramatically, why is the style and structure of the USA Constitution still almost unique?
I have to interject that I believe that several South and Central American countries do have constitutions closely based on that of the USA. Unfortunately they didn't "take", almost as if the donor and recipient societies were too far apart for an organ transplant to work. However that does not detract from the persuasive argument that AOG puts forward next:
I think that that answer is simple. The USA Constitution, while it has been very good for the USA, wasn’t particularly good for the Founding Fathers. Except for Washington, they had to fight for public office afterwards. They fought vigorously over important policy issues (see the history of the First National Bank for an example). In contrast, the non-American style constitutions tend to be very good for the authors, either directly, politically or ideologically.
Mesh thought good.

Stuff happens. Yesterday after school I was getting my swimming things together when an explosion went off in the cupboard by the cooker. I was put out. I have enough to cope with in my life - the swimming pool closes at 6.30 for a start - without having to clear up after what appeared to be the in-cupboard martyrdom of an alien suicide bomber with glutinous brown blood.

OK, it was a small alien suicide bomber, but the determined fellow had projected himself over the walls, ceiling and contents of the cuboard with an enthusiasm that more than compensated for his lack of inches. The blast had knocked down the balsamic vinegar, completely taken out the rock salt and the Extra Virgin olive oil had brown gloop all over it. Wrong cupboard for the raisins though, ha-ha!

I dare say some people will find all this tasteless. In contrast, the mixture of gravy browning and ginger beer dripping down the cupboard wall smelled quite tasty. I decided not to try a lick on account of the broken glass.

The whiff of ginger beer did suggest an alternative explanation to that of the Jihad of the Borrowers. Reminder to self: next time get ginger beer from supermarket that is chock-full of safety-tested cyclamates, sodium benzoate and spent nuclear fuel rods, rather than Real Traditional Ginger Beer of Mass Destruction from farmers' market.

This is getting silly. Two quotes illustrating the steady progress of the modern world towards a parody of itself, both found via David Carr of Samizdata:
If the French and the Dutch reject the EU Constitution on Sunday and Wednesday, they should re-run the referendums, the current president of the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said.

"If at the end of the ratification process, we do not manage to solve the problems, the countries that would have said No, would have to ask themselves the question again", Mr Juncker said in an interview with Belgian daily Le Soir.

And, moving up a post:
A&E doctors are calling for a ban on long pointed kitchen knives to reduce deaths from stabbing.

A team from West Middlesex University Hospital said violent crime is on the increase - and kitchen knives are used in as many as half of all stabbings.

The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all.

Thursday, May 26, 2005
"President Bush's drive for absolute power has momentarily stalled. In a single coup, he planned to take over all the institutions of government."

Absolute power? Coup? To the barricades, comrades! ¡No pasaran!

On second thoughts, don't worry. It's only Sidney Blumenthal in the Guardian. Talking about filibusters rather than the Last Days of American Democracy, although you wouldn't guess that from lines like "sheer force would prevail". Here he is:

Historically, it [the filibuster] was used by southern senators to block civil rights legislation. In the first two years of the Clinton presidency, the Republicans deployed 48 filibusters, more than in the entire previous history of the Senate, to make the new Democratic chief executive appear feckless. The strategy was instrumental in the Republican capture of the Congress in 1994. By depriving the Democrats of the filibuster, Bush intended to transform the Senate into his rubber stamp.

For many senators the fate of the filibuster was only superficially about an arcane rule change. And shameless hypocrisy was the least of the problem. (Frist, like most Republicans in favour of the nuclear option, had enthusiastically filibustered against Clinton's court nominees, 65 of which were blocked from 1995-2000.)
Shameless hypocrisy, eh? Look again at the first line of the quote above: the filibuster "... was used by southern senators to block civil rights legislation."

Now what party might these "southern senators" have belonged to, Mr Blumenthal? Maybe we could ask some venerable senators:

Over the weekend, two elders, Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, and Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, pored over the federalist papers, written by the constitutional framers, to refresh their thinking about the inviolability of the Senate.
I don't know how much John Warner needs to "refresh his thinking" but Senator Byrd, in particular might be jogged into remembering...

Yeah, yeah. It was a long time ago. If I am to remind everyone that the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 was opposed by Southern Democrats, let it also be said that it was initiated by Northern Democrats (and passed with the help of the Republicans.) Byrd himself is quite reformed now, I hear, and popular with many black voters.

My complaint is this. If you are going to talk about hypocrisy regarding filibusters, don't leave out your own party's hypocrisy. (Mr Blumenthal was once President Clinton's senior adviser.) Yet a lot of people seem to go oddly vague on what party Byrd and his ilk belonged to despite being more than happy to talk about the great days of the Civil Rights era generally.

In fact my complaint is that I could without effort find the material to write a post like this around once a month - and that's just from the British media. I wrote a very similar post for Biased BBC earlier this month. Same basic situation: the BBC's Justin Webb indulged a bunch of folksy filibusterin' reminiscence from Senator Byrd without ever mentioning what Byrd was trying to do by speaking for fourteen hours and thirteen minutes, or what the filibuster is best known for.

Most British people have only heard of the filibuster at all in the context of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964. I've read, as it happens, many UK GCSE textbooks on twentieth century history. One of the popular options for study is the Depression, another is the Civil Rights struggle. Maybe I'll supply quotes in a future post, but let me tell you now one thing they all have in common: no kid leaves the chapter on the Depression without knowing that President Hoover was a BAD president and he was a REPUBLICAN. Yet when it comes to the Civil Rights struggle in the next chapter a certain coyness comes over the same writers. They don't exactly conceal that Robert Byrd or Strom Thurmond were Democrats (no need to tell me that Thurmond changed to Republican later) but a kid needs to be attentive to pick it up. The books prefer to dwell on Byrd and Thurmond's geographical origin. Southern senators.

Here is some knockabout fun from the comments to this post on Peter Cuthbertson's Conservative Commentary. Consider it a companion piece to the repartee from Harry's Place I posted a while ago.

Peter, isn't it about time for a bit of Conservative Commentary about, you know, the general election? Are these snickerings all you can muster?

This site has often been absurd, and occasionally offensive, but up to this point it has never been boring. You're disappointing people.
Alan | 05.19.05 - 3:26 pm | #


By contrast, Alan, you've always been absurd, offensive and boring. I want to post a great deal on the election, and to do justice to the subject, that will have to wait until my exams finish on the 26th.
Peter | Homepage | 05.19.05 - 5:22 pm | #

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
The meaning of a work of literature is intrinsic. JEM writes:
I'm not sure that a discourse on biblical scholarship is relevant to meaningful consideration of the Rahila Khan/Toby Forward/Virago saga.

If Mr Forward was not a vicar but a social worker or dustman, would this discussion ever have strayed into matters eisegesic, exegesic or even hermeneutic?

If the author of the Merchant of Venice had been a Italian Jew rather than an English Protestant or indeed entirely unknown, would it really have changed the intrinsic meaning and value of the work? I think not.

What do we really know about Homer? At the end of the day does it matter? Such works as the Odyssey would remain a great work no matter what we do or do not know about its author.

I was first confronted with a discussion in this general catagory when I came to study Hamlet in school at about thirteen or so, and was expected to write an essay setting out what Hamlet's thinking was as he uttered his famous soliloquy. My objection that the question was meaningless because Hamlet was a figment of Shakespeare's imagination and so by definition could not be thinking anything was not popular in the English department at my school.

This confrontation merely confirmed my determination to concentrate on a scientific career where as a general rule, if something walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, then absent contradictory evidence it is a duck.

Therefore I disagree fundamentally with Harry Powell. The Rev. Forward did not change meaning by misinterpreting himself to Virago. The meaning of this work, or any other, is intrinsic to the work itself. Full stop. Everything else is highfalutin' hot air.

By pulping his book, Virago is as guilty of an act of 'racial' censorship as the Nazis ever were. But that should be no surprise. Political correctness, called Gleichanschaltung back then, was a Nazi invention after all.

And what's more Virago have exhibited a lamentable lack of self-deprecating humour. Which is no surprise either.

As with Mr Powell's comments, I partly agree and partly disagree with this. I am nearly always interested in learning more about an author even though I firmly believe that it is the glory of fiction that one can (albeit imperfectly) use it to walk a mile in another's shoes, and that a work of fiction should be judged in its own right.

What I think happened with Down the Road, Worlds Away was that Virago
bought and published the book 50% because it was good (they would have been ashamed to have poor material published under their imprint), 25% because the author appeared to be an authentic voice of the Muslim community saying things that Virago hoped the Muslim community would say, and 25% because it demonstrates their non-racism to have some minority names on the list of authors. If asked, Virago would have liked the public to believe that they were publishing it 60% because it was good, 40% because it portrayed life among the marginalised Muslim community and 0% because the author had a Muslim name. (Of course my ludicrously exact numbers are just tools for getting an idea across, but you know what I mean.)

For their part the members of the public who bought the book would, I think, have claimed to have bought it with their motives split 60/40/0 but, again, would actually have bought it 50/25/25. This unspoken conspiracy between publishers and readers was wide open to be exploited by Forward. Yes, he did misrepresent himself - I do not know whether explicitly or implicitly - but few condemn George Eliot for pretending to be a man in order to get published in the conditions of her day, so few should condemn Forward for doing what it takes to get published in ours.

Most observers agree that his stories were good. (In Virago's case, they had better!) The interesting question is, were they an authentic portrait of the British Muslim community of the Midlands? Forward thinks yes. Dalrymple thinks yes. I would be interested to know what Midlands Muslims think, althought there is the perennial difficulty that intellectuals who comment on such things are highly unusual people in any community. The question is complicated by the fact that Rahila Khan's portrait of the Muslims living in the Midlands included the implication that this community had produced her. It had not. Has it produced anyone like her?

Another thing I can never remember is the exact meanings of and distinction between "second cousin" and "first cousin once removed." Don't bother telling me; I can always look it up. The point is, I always have to.

What Bible criticism tells you about "Rahila Khan". This is the email my computer ate out of malice for humankind. The alternative explanation, that I filed it in completely the wrong place, is fit only for those craven souls willing to submit to the Silicon Peril.

Harry Powell writes:

The article you quote by Theodore Dalrymple on the
Rev. Forward's literary labours got justifiably wide comment on the right wing of the blogosphere, much of it taking delight in the embarrassment of Virago but which missed a subtler point that Dalrymple glides over. The money quote is this: "Was he not in fact telling us, as presumably a good Christian should, that mankind is essentially one, and that if we make a sufficient effort we too can enter into the worlds of others who are in many ways different from ourselves." Well on that thread hangs a great deal of biblical scholarship and controversy dating back at least to Dilthey and Schleiermacher and which turns on a carefully drawn distinction between meaning and interpretation.

If we confine ourselves to asking what a text says there can be no room for misunderstanding; that understanding must be either true or false and therefore there can be no account in differences of interpretation except in terms of error and wanton accusations of stupidity. What hermeneuticists, however, claim is that meaning is construed out of methodologies of interpretation and as such knowing who says what, where, when and in which cultural context is crucial.

Much of contemporary literary theory is the heir to this kind of biblical eisegesis and is by no means an intellectually dishonest position to hold. Imagine if we learnt that the Merchant of Venice wasn't written by a protestant actor from the Midlands but a jewish businessman from the Veneto surely it would profoundly change our view of the play, yet how could we be expected to derive that biographical fact from the text alone? This seems to be what Dalrymple is condemning Virago for, the book in question purports to have the authenticity of lived experience, indeed Dalrymple is at pains to point out that Forward's life parallels the lives of his characters, yet inescapably Forward's work is an act of imagination - he is not an Asian teenager. Forward did change the meaning of his work by misrepresenting himself to Virago and if it had no literary merit beyond social documentary they were quite right in pulping it. Dalrymple's position is untenable one unless he means us to make a bonfire not just of Dilthey but Nietzsche and Heidegger too.

I want to get back to this subject, partly agreeing and partly disagreeing, when all the ideas sloshing around my head have had a chance to settle down.

Incidentally, for a moment I "corrected" Mr Powell's 'eisegesis' to 'exegesis'. Fortunately some good instinct caused me to check. This site explains both words, and 'hermeneutics' besides. That last word falls into a special mental category: words for which I can never remember the definition however often I look it up.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Use old AOL disk boxes for celestial navigation. It doesn't actually have to be a box from an AOL disk sent to you in the post, but, let's face it, no other type of disk box will give you quite the same pleasure. James Rummel spotted this admirable project: The CD-Sextant.
... This small instrument is built using a CD and box. As in the X-Tant Project, I used a few Lego blocks and glass mirrors. No electric tools are necessary to build a CD-Sextant. It's a good science project.

...The design takes advantage of the dimensional precision of CD parts and Lego bricks. The sextant arm is the CD itself and the sextant frame is the CD box. The angle is changed by turning the CD.

The sailing world really changed when the answer to the question "What if my GPS breaks down?" became "Buy two." If both break down, have a CD case handy.

I was equally interested by the post below. Soon the US Navy may be putting its sextants away forever. Not only its sextants, but its paper maps.

The Ticonderoga was navigated using the most advanced methods of the time but it wasn’t anywhere near automated. The navigator needed to really know his stuff to make sure that the ship got to where it was supposed to be and didn’t run into anything on the way. Every ship had a few chart lockers, cabinets which contained the detailed maps by mariners since the first ships sailed out of sight of land. Every single ship in the US Navy which put to sea would have their own set of 12,000 paper maps, adding more than a ton of weight and taking up a great deal of space. Not only that, but it was a logistics nightmare to keep all those charts up to date and current.
There is sadness in the passing - or, at least, the drastic mutation - of two technologies that have served since the Elizabethan age.

Somebody sent me a longish email about the "Rahila Khan" / Toby Forward book. It was very interesting, and my computer liked it so much that it ate it. Please send it again. UPDATE: Found it! See above.

The dragon eats its own tail, again. The goverment of Zimbabwe persecutes flea-market traders desperately trying to scratch a living in the wreckage of Zimbabwe's economy. These people, selling individual bags of maize meal from the side of the road, are the ones keeping Zimbabwe fed.

When the capital city starves, revolution is near.

(Via the Globalization Institute news digest.)

Added later: The last time I referred to events in Zimbabwe as "the dragon eating its own tail" was in this post that referred to Mugabe damaging the education of the children of the his own government ministers by arresting the heads of private schools. Brian Micklethwait commented about that story here and about the same phenomenon as it applied to the Zimbabwe cricket team here. (The sporting example is more important than it seems: prestige matters to quasi-dictatorships.) These earlier posts referred to Mugabe angering his own elite. Yet another sign of the same thing is that it has been admitted that even the people who were rewarded for loyalty by being allowed to take the farms expropriated from whites and prosperous blacks are now unable to profit from them. In today's story we see how Mugabe is angering the populace as well.

I came across this quotation from Bacon that is relevant:

The matter of seditions is of two kinds: much poverty and much discontentment ... And if this poverty and broken estate in the better sort be joined with a want and necessity in the mean people, the danger is imminent and great. For the rebellions of the belly are the worst.

Monday, May 23, 2005
Down the road, worlds away, but one can go there in imagination. Via R C Dean at Samizdata I found this marvellous Criterion article by Theodore Dalrymple. If I say that it is about the Church of England vicar who collected rejection slips for his short stories until he submitted them under the name Rahila Khan, then I will tempt a few anti-PC readers to go there for a laugh. But it is far, far more than that. Dalrymple says explicitly and the Rev. Forward (the author's real name) says in his work something important about literature.
Academics and intellectuals found the affair painful to elucidate. If it were true that the balkanization of literature was justified by the supposition that only people who belonged to a certain category of people could truly understand, write about, interpret, and sympathize with the experiences of people in that same category, so that, for example, only women could write about women for women, and only blacks about blacks for blacks (the very careers of many academics now depending upon such a supposition), how was it possible that a Church of England vicar had been able, actually without much difficulty, to persuade a feminist publishing house that he wrote as a woman, and as a Muslim woman of Indian subcontinental origin at that? Was he not in fact telling us, as presumably a good Christian should, that mankind is essentially one, and that if we make a sufficient effort we too can enter into the worlds of others who are in many ways different from ourselves? Was he not implying that the traditional view of literature, that it expresses the universal in the particular, was not only morally and religiously superior, but empirically a more accurate description of it as an enterprise than the view of literature as a series of stockades, from which groups of the embittered and enraged endlessly fired arrows at one another without ever quite achieving victory?
There is also a compassionate account of the two differently blighted but mutually contemptuous cultures that "Rahila Khan" described. Many of the stories describe ultimately tragic liaisons between Muslim girls and white boys living in depressed Midlands towns. "Khan" had claimed to have been one and know the other well. The only thing that was untrue in that claim was which half was which:
But from the moment I started to read the stories in Down the Road, Worlds Away (and the title itself should have given a clue to the book’s serious intent, capturing in five words a very important element of modern social reality), I understood that the author was not in any sense perpetrating a hoax, much less a fraud. He was writing in earnest, and not satirizing anyone. For what he described in his stories was only too familiar to me from my work as a doctor, and no one could write so clearly of such matters without a deep sense of purpose.

The Reverend Toby Forward, as it happens, is not the scion of privilege, even of privilege in decline; his biography in outline followed that of Rahila Khan’s very closely. He was born in Coventry in 1950, and did live for many years in the cities of the English Midlands. He did marry in 1971, did have two daughters, did start to write in 1986, and did live in Brighton at the time the book was published.

The Reverend Forward’s knowledge of the kind of people I have been treating as a doctor for many years came to him by a different route from my knowledge of them. It so happens that I have worked in the very same area that the Reverend Forward writes about, where his father was a publican. Both his parents, who were working class, left school when they were fourteen years old. They lived in slum areas of the unlovely cities of the Midlands, and he himself went to schools in which half the pupils were of Indian or Pakistani descent. His early life was lived in precisely the social environment depicted in Down the Road, Worlds Away ...

I hope to read it one day. Sadly, it is difficult to get hold of as the copies not yet sold were pulped by the publishers when the "fraud" was discovered.

Number gut. Shannon Love writes about estimates of dead in the Iraq war.
For example, during WWII the Japanese mainland suffered the most extensive aerial bombardment in history. Every major urban area save one (Kyoto) was burned to the ground. On march 10th, 1945 the great Tokyo fire raid burned down a third of the city and killed 100,000 people. Two major cities were nuked. Japan at the time had a population of 78 million, so 1% of the population would have been around 780,000. Now, what is your guess as to the number of Japanese killed on the Japanese mainland?

Did you guess around 500,000? Under 1%? Well, that is in fact the number (note: that's only dead, not dead-and-wounded).

So, with the Falluja cluster included, LIMS asks us to believe that Iraq has suffered a worse proportional aerial bombardment than did Japan during WWII. Common sense compels us to ask: does Iraq look like it suffered such a fate? Where are the mass graves? Where are the leveled cities? Where are the hundreds of thousands of walking wounded? Where are the millions of refugees that such intense fighting must have inevitably produced?

Worse still, given the known geographical areas where the fighting occurred, most of the deaths would have had to be concentrated in an area of 100 klicks or so from Baghdad, which would have meant an even higher percentage of the local population killed and the physical evidence even more obvious. (After the recent publication of the ILCS, it also means that the deaths would have to been compressed in time as well. The ILCS reported only 24,000 war related deaths up until May 25, 2004. For the LIMS to be true, the additional 200,000 deaths would have to have occurred between then and early Sept 2004 when LIMS was conducted. That comes out to roughly 2,000 deaths per day.)

Click, click, click. That's how often a life is lost by the policies that Make Poverty History wants to entrench. Stephen Pollard says the Make Poverty History campaign would be better called Make Poverty Permanent.
The engine of growth, without which countries remain in poverty, is trade. Tariff protection keeps resources in unproductive, low-return activities such as the type of farming which Make Poverty History seeks to entrench. Free trade shifts resources to more productive uses. Take Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea and India: while they maintained their tariffs, they remained stuck in poverty, the only thing which tariffs protect. As recently as the early 1980s they were poor countries. Their incomes per head ranged from $700 (£350) to $7,000. Today they range from $2,000 to more than $21,000. Even India, one of the world’s poorest nations in the 1960s and 1970s, is on the road to prosperity. In 1991 the Indian Government reacted to a financial near-collapse by cutting forty years of bureaucratic control in seven hours. Its economy now grows much faster than its population and India is becoming one of the leading exporters of computer software and services. There is a vast new middle class of 250 million.

Lee Moore writes:
I was amused to see that what you describe as the Guardian's belated conversion to the idea of limited government, to which you linked on 16 May, concludes with a complaint about the government's reluctance to ban people from working more than 48 hours a week. I think we can rest easy - the Guardian is still on the side of those who would guard us from ourselves.
Oh, the relief. Actually, though my understanding is that the directive concerned will mostly stop shop and factory employees from such predatory behaviour. Creative types like Guardian writers will find all sorts of let-outs.

Friday, May 20, 2005
Independent journalists get new insights from exotic herbs. I always suspected something of the sort. Scott Burgess has more.

A government task force is going to specify exactly what they mean by good school behaviour and advise on how to bring it about. Jacqui Smith, the new schools minister says: "A culture of respect, good behaviour and firm discipline must be the norm in all schools, all of the time."

It must be. All schools, all of the time. What weakness, what years of disappointment, what nervousness lie behind those martial words. It sounds like a failing teacher talking tough to the Friday afternoon class she most dreads.

Brian Micklethwait says the way to get rid of bad behaviour is much easier to specify than the committee think. Easy to specify but politically impossible, for the moment. The heart of the impossibility is the minister's demand that yobbery be banished from all schools, all the time - when what is needed is the power to banish particular yobs from your particular school this afternoon.

Gerard Baker on George Galloway:
Perhaps in the end, if you’re a cynic you may find Mr Galloway’s asymmetrical approach to authority — a lapdog in the hands of the one who likes to watch as his victims are tortured; a lion in the face of those who threaten with questions and subpoenas — simply the familiar mark of the coward. If you’re an optimist, you might find it oddly comforting The Mother of Parliaments clasps him to her bosom. The world’s greatest deliberative body sits in embarrassed silence as he lectures it on its shortcomings. Nothing surely illustrates better the absolute superiority of the West’s system and what underpins it that we tolerate and even reward such lèse-majesté. We know what Saddam did to those who were brave enough to utter much more cogent critiques of his rule.

Me, though I’ll celebrate my opponent’s right to be wrong, I can’t suppress a slight regret that the price of our liberty is paid in the deference we give to men who excuse tyranny.

My sympathies are with those men, women and children who died because of Saddam’s indefatigable affection for torture and murder; with those who today are suffering still because of his successors’ indefatigable affection for the suicide bomb in the marketplace or at the mosque.

It is the tragic but hopeful people of Iraq who have shown us how to defy power and misery, and who, if we stand firm against the Galloways of this world, will one day get the Respect they truly deserve.

The Times used to be called "The Thunderer." It thunders still.

Thursday, May 19, 2005
Grand strategy
"...the real strategic danger to the cause of freedom and democracy isn't from the noisemakers of the Left but from the temptation to betray principles for tactical gain. It lies on the very same path that Galloway, Martin and Newsweek, in their cunning, have taken. The Left hitched its wagon to the worst men of the 20th and 21st century and it is dragging them into the dustbin of history. Let's go the other way."
- Wretchard of the Belmont Club, talking about the alliance with Karimov of Uzbekistan. Read the whole thing, as Instapundit does say. Also read the extremely informative post from Winds of Change quoted within the Belmont Club post.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Good stuff I read today. Yeah, can't think of a better headline.

Photon Courier on why it is a bad idea for university libraries to dispense with books.

The Blitherbun takes the metaphor of the political balance literally and does some sums. Suggestions as to the S.I. units of condemnation should be directed to him. Getting back to his main topic, I wonder how or if his interesting model could be tied into this article by Mark Steyn, also quoted by the Bunny a few days ago.

As a general proposition, the Heseltine thesis is doubtful: successful conservatives don’t move towards the ‘political centre’. They move the political centre towards them. That’s what Thatcher and Reagan both did. Whereas if you move towards the political centre, all you do is move the centre. If Labour is at 1 on the scale and the Tories are at 9, and their focus groups tell them to move to 5, they have ensured that henceforth the centre will be 3, and they’ll be fighting entirely on the Left’s terms and the Left’s issues.
Let me add to the mixture another quote from the same piece on my own account:
So Lord Heseltine may simply be providing further evidence that he’s yesterday’s man when he drones on about the ‘centre ground’ being where elections are won. In Northern Ireland, it’s where elections are lost; the centre ground is where parties go to die.
Both the Steyn quotes appear to contradict Scott's model. But I have a feeling they might be reconciled by someone more awake than I. (UPDATE: With one bound he was free! Visit the link again to see Scott incorporate the Steyn quote as supporting evidence for his model)

Richard North of the EU Referendum blog sardonically asks why the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) presumes to instruct the Lebanese media on the fairness of its election coverage when "when virtually every member state holding a referendum is attempting to rig the media to ensure a "yes" vote for the EU constitution."

I shall demonstrate my healthy self-esteem by including two acrimonious comments threads at Shot By Both Sides in which I participated under the heading of this post.

Upstanding newspapers. Jake writes:
"Have you tried the IHT? or maybe our FT?
You have a point, there. I'd prefer a British paper - as I said I have a preference for taking a paper that at least some other people around me are reading too. (In my next life I'd like to be a lemming.) Will definitely consider the FT. Not only would it be educational, the pink pages in the recycling would impress the neighbours as well.

Alex Bensky writes:

I see the British papers from time to time and everything you say, and more, is true. And day wander over to one of our excuses for a local paper, the Detroit Free Press, at

Within the last two days it has had two large front page stories on the new "Star Wars" movie, not to mention exhaustive coverage elsewhere. Last fall some high school students played a cruel prank on a fat classmate and got her elected homecoming queen. She handled it with dignity and the Free Press had six stories on it, including two major front page articles with photographs.

I could go on and on...I'll confine myself to mentioning that about a year ago a columnist wrote that she was going to write about her sex life although she thought many of her readers would be disinterested in it. I wrote to ask if she thought the distinction between "disinterested" and "uninterested" was no longer worth maintaining. She hadn't known there was one.

The paper is written in fairly simple, easy to read prose, lots of short paragraphs, and everything is personalized, no matter the subject matter: "Housewife Betty Jones of suburban Ferndale is worried about the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs..." They've also managed to gut what used to be a pretty good comics section.

The papers are so bad that since I like a morning paper I get the NY Times, and you might be surprised to see what their arts section now thinks is worthy of cultural coverage. So count your blessings.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Mildly hypocritical, mildly prudish reader seeks newspaper for fun and possible long term relationship. From the age of ten onwards I read the Times every day and learnt a lot from it. I was the sort of child who instructed her elders and betters on any complexities of the situation in South Africa that they might have missed. Having survived being strangled I was on course to be the well-informed person you see today. I remember the Times, and particularly the columns written by Bernard Levin, with gratitude.

Decades have passed. My oldest child is twelve. You might think that I would make sure to have a quality newspaper hit the mat each day. We do not. Why not? Several reasons, but to my suprise I find that one of the most important is that they are all too salacious.

Since I am complaining about that I had better mention that there will be some discussion of sex in this post. Nothing the average twelve year old hasn't known about for years, but probably mutually embarrassing for parent or child to know the other has read. That's the whole point, actually.

When I was a kid I learned much the ways of the world - sex, drugs, crime and so on - from reading the paper. The information came in gradually, casually and mixed up with other topics. Good.

However, thirty years ago an article about prostitution, for instance, would be wrapped up in a package of high-minded concern for a social problem. Possibly this concern was fake, mere cover for a way of giving readers a thrill while allowing writer and reader to pretend to be respectable. More likely motives were mixed. Certainly I frequently read such articles in the spirit of one looking up the rude words in the dictionary. But if hypocrisy it was, then so much the better for hypocrisy. It compares well with the crassness of today. A month or two back the Sunday Telegraph had an article about that countrywoman who became a prostitute to pay for her daughter's riding lessons. It wasn't the fact that the story was covered that I objected to but the detailed descriptions of her encounters with various clients, including clients who took pleasure in violent abuse. I would rather not have that topic for family discussion over breakfast, thank you.

And that was the Telegraph - once upon a time written by respectable Tories. The Independent and the Guardian are full of writers anxious to assert how comfortable they are with various fetishes. Quite apart from the explicitness, I do not wish my children to grow up to be bores. Should I then go back to my old friend, the Times? It's probably the best bet of the qualities, but I find it ominous that David Aaronovitch has joined the staff. I greatly respect Aaro's writing on the Iraq war but every fifth article he wrote for the Guardian concerned his relationship with his right hand and I have no reason to suppose he will be any different in the Times.

I'm certainly not advocating censorship, just saying that a paper that went back to offering all the news that's fit to print would have my subscription sewn up. I would like it to be a major paper, though. I have nothing against the various Christian papers - I am always happy to learn of a successful Alpha Course in Cheam - but that isn't what I want as a main news source. Too sectional. Too wholesome. Too admiring of Christian Aid. I want the cosmopolitan feel of a newspaper that I know is also read by several hundred thousand of my compatriots at least.

How many other readers are there like me? My guess is that quite a few parents who don't particularly care about sex in the papers on their own account suddenly develop prudish tendencies when their child reads about it. As a result many children may not be getting started on the newspaper habit.

Monday, May 16, 2005
The Guardian repudiates the Nanny State. In this leading article, "The Limits of Politics", the Guardian is referring to the recent banning of "hoodies" and baseball caps by Bluewater shopping centre, which for some reason the government felt compelled to comment upon.
But in 10 years of raising the issue, we are no closer to seeing a bigger picture, or solutions that involve anything more than crackdowns, anti-social behaviour orders, or more police out on the beat. Not that the opposition parties have been any better on the subject: the Liberal Democrats recently changed its tack on Asbos and dispersal orders, while the Conservatives had their micro-policies aimed at yobs. In all cases the politicians' reflex is to take actions that they think will influence the tide of society.

But the policies of both government and opposition combined fail to approach the central truth regarding mutual respect: that there is very little any administration can usefully do. Politeness cannot be legislated. Social capital is something that is built and dissolved over generations, a rather longer term than the span of parliaments. Yet that does not mean that genuine issues cannot be identified and dealt with - and it is certainly neither useful nor correct to say in response that public outcries and media scares are always overblown.

What can politicians do in the face of genuine shifts in cohesion and cooperation? In reality, very little. In fact, politicians are not always the best placed to provide answers. The underlying issues are frequently too complex and do not lend themselves to setting targets or crackdowns.

Now they tell us.

It would have been nice if the Guardian had discovered the wisdom of limited government earlier. Like, say, 1945. As it is the leader writer has had his or her epiphany about the wrong subject. There may be indeed be little that politicians can do to actively legislate for civic virtue but there are enormous harms that politicians could stop doing. They could stop paying people to raise their children without virtue, social skills, chance of employment, or fathers. These "genuine shifts in cohesion and cooperation" the editorialist writes about did not arise from an inauspicious conjunction of the stars. If there is one insight (actually there are several) I owe to my time as a socialist it is that bad states of society are not unalterable. How the old-time socialists would have despised the Guardian today, as it sighs like a medieval peasant woman paying to grind her corn at the Lord's mill: "It's just he way things are. There's nothing the likes of us can do." The only problem is that the present weakness of civic society largely arises from the very measures those old-time socialists enacted with such determination. Admitting that and beginning the process of reversal is very painful but it is not complex. The pretence that it is complex is usually just an excuse to avoid the admission.

As for the ban itself, fine, if that's what Bluewater thinks will make the majority of its customers happy. Why shouldn't it operate a dress code? Lots of pubs and clubs already do. If you don't like the code, shop elsewhere. Bluewater will keep it if it works and drop it if it doesn't.

"If there is a workshop of the world today the way there was in the north of England in the mid 19th century, then this is it." Michael Jennings went to Shenzen, China. He took both literary and literal snapshots of a society steaming away from the Third World and into the First. Or do I mean Second World to first?

I liked this:

I quite genuinely would not want to live in a world that does not contain giant bowling pins with writing on them in languages I do not understand: But that is because my metacontext is fundamentally cosmopolitan.

Fish enjoying new cylindrical home. I thought that the Huffington Post would be nothing but clueless leftebrities telling us that they are emigrating to Canada after the Oscars and whales are, like, so spiritual.

Perhaps not. This post surprised me. The writer is the CEO of three charter schools in Los Angeles.

There are four special interests that have blocked, clogged, and undermined reform for decades. It is all about money, control, and power. It is diseased value system that leaves our kids uneducated, exposed to violence and drugs, and with too few or zero opportunities to pursue the American Dream. Who are the four? Emphatically, I name names: the teacher's unions, the University Schools of Education, the bureaucracies, and (unbelievably) the PTAs.

Via Joanne Jacobs.

Thursday, May 12, 2005
The sun shines and your humble servant bloggeth not. Or not much anyway. Maybe I should garden more often. Scott Burgess left off the blogging for a while to tend the Burgess plot and look at him now: riding high. Galloway, A L Kennedy, Allende - it's all there.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005
This article by Nkululeko Khumalo from the South African business magazine Business Day is rather heavy on the economist-speak. Read it anyway. One large factor keeping Africa down is this:
Delays at African customs are on average longer than in the rest of the world: 12 days in sub-Saharan Africa, compared with seven and five-and-a-half days in Latin America and in central and east Asia respectively.

Opaque border-crossing procedures add costs to traders who have to find the proper information, fill in the numerous forms and bribe officials to speed up clearance. As these expenses do not vary according to the value or the volume of sales, they increase operational costs per unit and put African firms in a much weaker position than international firms.

There is an epic to be written about African lorry drivers. The distances they cross, the ingenuity they must employ and the risks they take to get their cargoes delivered are all on a tremendous scale. The epic would involve tragedy: many of them have AIDS and have carried the disease with them.

(Via Alex Singleton's mail digest from the Globalisation Institute.)

Better to have been left in ignorance as to what Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said on Monday. Let that not diminish my gratitude to the nice person who responded to my shameless hints of yesterday by supplying the text, but, heavens, this is one of Yasmin's dopiest.
The bigger politics is what concerns us activists much more than the race and/or gender profile of an MP. And so to the Tories. The election ushers in the first 'black' Tory MP, Adam Afriye (half Ghanaian and half English)
Unless he has joint Ghanaian-British nationality he is all English.
and Shailash Vara, the Ugandan Asian who has done time as deputy chairman for a party which has always repudiated equality and diversity policies and produced a string of racist politicians, including Winston Churchill.
You mean she didn't want to talk about early socialist white supremacists after all?
So is this the nasty party shedding its repulsive past? Not a bit of it. These results, for me, are a damning manifestation of the splintering of the anti-racist struggle, a triumph of uncle Tomism and worse.

Here is what Clive Davis (whose blog I discovered via Stephen Pollard) said about that:
"Uncle Tom" is the laziest insult in the book. How does Yasmin know that black and Asian conservatives "assimilate into the political establishment without a backward glance at their origins"? Isn't it just possible that their ideas are based on hard experience rather than an eagerness to get a seat at the top table? Has she ever considered the possibility that it's much easier to follow the right-on crowd rather than take the path of somebody like Shelby Steele, a writer who has been subjected to no end of personal attacks simply for questioning America's post-Civil Rights orthodoxies?
Ms Alibhai-Brown continues:
To witness the son of illegal Jewish immigrants strategically mobilising mob instincts against immigrants was bad enough. To then have the sons of an African and a Ugandan Asian reiterate these obscene prejudices made me suicidal. They say it isn't racist to control immigration. They know how a racist stench rises when they flash such statements across the land. The victors deserve to be despised by egalitarians and people who believe in human rights, just as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are by millions of Americans of colour.
I agree with her view that it's what a politician does that counts, not his or her colour. The rest of the argument scarcely deserves the name. I am undecided on immigration, but even in my most libertarian phases I don't convince myself that someone saying it is not racist to control immigration is responsible for the racist thoughts that third parties may have when they hear this statement. There are probably people who think racist thoughts whenever they hear Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argue for some of her beliefs. She would not feel she had to remain silent to keep them from sin.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Diversity policies in history. Laban Tall - he pays a quid so you don't have to - has a splendid quote from an article Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has penned for the Independent. Referring, I think, to the Conservative Party, she speaks of:
"A party which has always repudiated equality and diversity policies...
Too right, sister. It is fact too little known that John Stuart, the Third Earl of Bute, generally reckoned to be the first Tory prime minister, would not countenance sex-change operations on the NHS.
...and produced a string of racist politicians, including Winston Churchill"
Hey, Churchill wasn't so bad. The English Democrats* website provides a page of quotes from his memos cited in the first volume of his History of the Second World War. Here is one:
There must be no discrimination on grounds of race or colour [In the employment of Indians or Colonial natives in the Royal Navy]. In practice much inconvenience would arrive if this theoretical equality had many examples. Each case must be judged on its merits, from the point of view of smooth administration. I cannot see any objection to Indians serving on H.M. ships where they are qualified and needed, or, if their virtues so deserve, rising to Admirals of the Fleet. But not too many of them, please.
One can read that either way. Whether you say that Churchill allowed his principled stand in favour of racial equality to be subordinated to the prejudices of the majority, or to winning the war, it is unarguable both that he made it and that he saw it as a secondary issue. Frankly I don't think Churchill's contemporaries on the left would have done much better: two incompatible tracks have always run in parallel in the British Labour movement; internationalism, and a belief in "British jobs for British workers." And simple protectionism wasn't the half of it. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century ideas could be discussed at Fabian Society meetings by some of the intellectual leading lights of socialism that would get you turfed out of the BNP nowadays. The Webbs, Wells, Shaw, Ruskin and Havelock Ellis all came out with some unlovely sentiments on the subject of eugenics and race.

Will Ms Alibhai-Brown mention any of this? I might even bestir myself to buy an actual paper copy of the Indy to see.

*in extra large print for older readers.

UPDATE: I am too late. The article was in yesterday's paper. The bit they do let you see tantalisingly suggests either that the general thrust of the rest was to denounce anti-semitism, and I have to say that she is on the side of good on that topic, or that Galloway defeating Oona King is somehow a good thing for race relations. Since I have an objection on principle (the principle that my money is better spent elsewhere) to paying for the Independent's "premium content", I shall never know which.

Several media sources and major bloggers have asked for help in publicising the Time Traveler Convention. I am happy to oblige. The Convention was held on May 7, but, as JEM says, "if you're a time traveller so what? It's never too late, is it?"

Well, it may be. Persons planning to depart for the convention in 2065, ten years after the launch of the Sony Timeboy (they were waiting until the price came down), and then to catch up with themselves a second time on one of those iPod timeshuffles given away free with Weetabix in 2070 ought to be aware of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect.

Monday, May 09, 2005
He ablutes once more.

"This creepy collection of local government officers, geography teachers and assorted smelly cranks combine the hungry opportunism of a trap-door spider with the prim, bossy condescension of an Edwardian school ma’am, only without the good looks of the former or the moral fibre of the latter."

- David Carr on the Liberal Democrats. He's scarcely kinder to the Tories:

Deep down in their hearts, Conservative MPs just want a very quiet life, a reasonable stipend and a researcher-cum-catamite. All this nasty politics stuff just gives them a headache.
And on Labour's handling of the economy:
Sometimes a village is inundated by a man-made reservoir. Often, though, that is not the last that anyone has seen of it. In the hot summer months, when the water level drops, a rotting church steeple can be seen poking up accusingly above the water line. If the level drops further, then the roofs of ruined buildings which one housed a thriving community become visible too, reminding everyone of the price that was paid for the reservoir.

Economies are rather like that.

Friday, May 06, 2005
Meanwhile, back in the real world Squander Two did not like the "I, Dalek" episode of Doctor Who.

Briffa, realist.

A famous name learns first-hand about postal vote fraud. My husband was listening to election stuff on Radio Four this morning and came up to tell me that James Naughtie said that he had been unable to vote because - get this - someone had fraudulently registered his name for a postal vote. "Ho," said I, (whilst deploring etc.) "That'll get 'em buzzing. Nothing stirs up a high priest of the chatterati like being denied his legal rights. The culprit probably targeted him to make that very point."

Then my husband rather spoilt this post by saying, "Or it could've been that other bloke."

Whichever bloke it was, Naughtie or Humphrys* or whoever, I hope he goes to law and wins a packet. A nice loud legal case with a famous lefty media plaintiff is about the only thing that will persuade the government to take vote fraud seriously.

Ashby v White, 1704 might not be a perfect precedent since the Returning Officer who denied Matthew Ashby his vote acted maliciously, and there was also a conflict regarding Parliamentary privilege that need not detain us here, but surely the general principle should still apply:

"It is Resolved, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That, by the known Laws of this Kingdom, every Freeholder, or other Person having a Right to give his Vote at the Election of Members to serve in Parliament, and being wilfully denied or hindered so to do, by the Officer who ought to receive the same, may maintain an Action in the Queen's Courts against such Officer, to assert his Right, and recover Damages for the Injury."

*It was Humphrys. (Hat tip - Verity.) He wasn't the only one - not even the only BBC presenter. Many more accounts of lost votes can be found here.

Here we go again.

It looks like the Lib Dems took seats off Labour rather than the Tories. That was opponents of the war, obviously. Wonder if it will last. The Tories took some damage from UKIP splitting the Eurosceptic vote in marginals. Not a great night for the SNP (gains but overtaken in share of Scottish vote by the Lib Dems), and an actively bad one for Plaid Cymru.

George Galloway beat Oona King, unfortunately. The BNP upped their vote.

Ian Gove has got in. Good.

Peter Law, who left Labour after a dispute about all-women shortlists, gained his seat as an Independent.

Veritas nowhere.

Northern Ireland - why does NI always have to be so slow? This BBC article asks but does not really answer. Sight unseen I bet a lot of extremists have done well.

Thursday, May 05, 2005
The Edge of England's Sword will be on the edge of his seat, liveblogging the election. The dreaded apathy lurgy can't reach him across the Atlantic.

Thinking about it, the link above takes you to one particular permalink. A better link to follow for regular updates would be this one to the main blog.

Tony Blair. What to say? Here is a damning indictment.

And here is a moving tribute.

(Free Iraqi link found via Normblog and Harry's Place)

Public Interest seems to want to convey some message. Can't quite work out what.

Inexorable incompatibility. A few days ago Best of the Web was too dismissive ("And some people think Christians are weird!") of Steven Spielberg's belief that aliens will be friendly. Spielberg said:
"I can't believe anybody would travel such vast distances bent on destruction. I believe anybody who would travel such vast distances are curious explorers, not conquerors," Spielberg said. "Carrying weapons a hundred-thousand light-years is quite a schlepp. I believe it's easier to travel 100,000 light-years with their versions of the Bible."
If it is weird to think about such things, sign me up to the weirdo club. Problems may arise for which it is useful to have around a few science-fiction-loving weirdos who have got some thinking done in advance. A more significant criticism of Spielberg's argument is that his mention of aliens bringing their version of the Bible is not an entirely reassuring model even to believers in our version. As my fellow Christian weirdo C S Lewis said in his 1958 essay on whether Christianity could be reconciled with the existence of aliens, 'Religion and Rocketry', "'Gun and gospel' have been horribly combined in the past."

This post of mine got started when I saw a post about Spielberg on Thought Mesh. AOG wrote:

Conquest isn’t going to be profitable for the same reason we don’t have slavery and the USA is uninterested in conquering other nations. Once a society reaches a sufficient level of technology, brute force and large scale coercion becomes a liablity, not an asset. This is of course the same effect that doomed the USSR and other Communist nations.
I agree with this as far as it goes. Of course aliens could wish to conquer for other reasons, such as a species need for dominance, to gain sentient sacrifices to Xfffa-peB[click]-nx, or the desperate need to fyoing the frupbooples of the poor Earthmen who will be grateful in the end.

Yet I find none of these prospects as scary as the next one AOG raises:

What is far more likely than hostility is complete indifference. It’s far from obvious that that would be preferable. For instance, a automaton swarm that dissassembled the planets to build large scale space structures would be indifferent to humans but hardly beneficial.
I am haunted by the fate of the Amerindians at the time of first contact with Europeans: vast numbers of them were wiped out by diseases to which Europeans had immunity and they did not. The Europeans did not plan that, or want it. (There are some accounts of deliberate infection via gifts of blankets infected with smallpox, but in general even the most conscienceless European conquerors wanted living slaves.) Neither the natives or the newcomers knew why one group of humans died from contact and the other did not. Not even the germs themselves, who to alien observers might seem as important as the humans, can be said to have "wanted" so many Amerindians to die; strains of disease that kill off their victims too fast tend to be relatively unsuccessful in replicating themselves.

Should we ever make contact with aliens a similar fate might befall us, or them, or both. I don't mean that alien diseases would be likely to harm us or vice versa: surely our respective biochemistries would be too different. (Or would they? What about some microscopic natural or created von Neumann machines that ate more or less anything and used it to replicate themselves?) But I fear being consumed by some inexorable incompatibility, some phenomenon without purpose yet beyond our understanding. I fear the fate of the moth that flies into a flame.

This is not an argument for pulling in our horns. It behoves the moth to study fire. If there are dangers out there, better to know.

Once we know that one other intelligent race exists, or has existed, it's a safe bet there are more. Even if these aliens are both benevolent and compatible, what about the next lot, and the next, and the next? It's as if the Amerindians had to survive their interaction with not one but a thousand Europes.

I've delighted in science fiction for many years. I'm used to thinking that the discovery of an alien race would be tremendously interesting. The day the news of discovery came I would go half mad with wanting to know what they were like, how they lived and died, their ideas of good and evil, what they knew how to do, and how they got here - especially if that last item involved faster than light travel. I still do think I would have all of those reactions. But when I imagine that day as it would be to live rather than to read about, I think that fear would take a grip of my heart that would never entirely loosen, however many years went by with no harm done.

Lots of comment from readers on banning the BNP.

Anonymous writes:

I observe that in the United States and Canada where we have real live (neo) nazis that leaving them to be open has proved very useful. Cockroaches don't thrive in direct sunlight.

They are much easier to observe, infiltrate & generally keep an eye on when they are in the open. They serve to remind people that there are, indeed, morons of this ilk alive and well.

The wannabe nazis get to blow off steam, well photographed by the FBI, RCMP, and despised by almost everyone. Many recover and go on to be embarassed about their youthful indiscretion. ( Happens to various communist cretins too.)

The more hardcore Nazis get caught doing something stupid, or sold out while doing criminal stuff (Making bombs, beating on Asok at the Jiffy Mart, whatever) and the local prosecuters (and Judge Weinstein or Judge Subramanian) throw the book, kitchen sink and anything else they can at them.

They are maintained at the minor nuisance level. Agressive law enforcement of existing law and observant attitude.

What you'd do to any dangerously stupid subculture.


Pete James writes:

The Rod Liddle piece you quoted was one reason I've been keeping an eye on the BNP site of late. His prediction of when Griffin would be appearing in court was a tad out as to date but even more fortuitous as to timing. The election was called on 5 April and so overwhelmed the news on the 6th. Griffin was re-arrested and presented in court on the 7th making both the evening Radio 4 news and a mention the following morning in bulletins largely concerned with election issues. A cynic would judge this immaculate timing if it wasn't inconceivable that the authorities would use the police & judicial system as a spoiler against a political party that threatens the government's majority in crucial seats.

It was interesting that the commentator on my post should respond by discussing the National Front. [I think he's just using it as a catch-all phrase. Must admit I sometimes do the same. I call CDs "records" too. - NS] As far as I'm aware, the two are entirely separate entities although they do share common antecedents and no doubt, despite the BNP's strong denial, there's a certain degree of cross-fertilization. The BNP however does seem to be trying to develop a complete manifesto with policies on industry, health, schools and the economy whereas it's doubtful that the National Front would recognise an economic policy if it bit it in its collective ankle.

I've never been sure of what the epithet fascist means outside of its Italian context. There are certainly echoes of National Socialism in a lot of BNP ideology but interestingly, if you wanted to go looking for a true child of the Nazi party I don't think you'd have to go much further than New Labour. The sense of ends justifying the means, the contempt for democracy, the casualness with truth and the law were all hallmarks of Hitler and his followers although Blair hasn't yet seen fit to combine his office with that of Chancellor, Perhaps this is less surprising when you remember that the Labour Party, National Socialism and for that matter Marxism all have their roots in 19th century utopian liberalism. (In passing I've always liked Terry Pratchett's observation that a communist is someone who has read Marx and hasn't got the joke. It took me some time but then Das Kapital is hardly a one-liner.)

Personally, I agree with you. I've no objection to being told what to do. Even anarchist groups tend to have leaders. I do object strongly to being told what to think.and by extension being denied the right to share those thoughts with others without fear of legal consequences. If you do not like what I say, as an individual you are welcome to punch me in the eye. I accept the risk. What you should not have is the legal right to silence me.

That is why I believe we need a party like the BNP and wish them well in their campaign. For that matter I would welcome a resurrection of the Communist Party and if an islamic party wants to advocate the delights of sharia.... well as long as they've no objection to the extraction of copious amounts of urine, why not? Within that broad spectrum I feel safe in my conceits. When the centre ground, when what ordinary folk believe and say, are treated as radical extremism I worry for the future.

Pete James

If you still have the cherrypicker download try Winamp -download free at: it's foolproof or at least jamesproof.
After visiting at the BNP site it's always a good idea to run a spyware check. They've been extensively targeted by hackers.

JEM writes
...By the way, I do not favour banning the NF, but the question deserved to be put. Free speech famously does not extend to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre; ultimately the principle could be considered the same.

Even in Germany, I wonder about the notion of an indefinite criminal ban of all things Nazi. Oh, I am sure it is still right for today, but as Germany has once more become a “normal” country, and indeed one that has done so much more to rescue its national reputation, honour and self-respect than Austria (the Führer’s homeland, as so many forget) or Japan, so one fine day Germans should enjoy just exactly the same degree of freedom as the rest of us.

Also it is interesting to observe that there is no similar banning, however more modestly or watered down, of the in some ways equally repellent former Communist regime of East Germany. The Stasi were far more pervasive and effective and in some important ways more criminal than the Gestapo, for instance. It was quite startling the first time I drove in former East Germany as I did a couple of years ago to come into a small rural village along its main street, Leninstrasse, and park in the main square, Karl-Marx-Platz. After all, all the Göringstrasses and Hitlerallees are long gone; but at least Karl-Marx-Stadt has reverted to being Chemniz once more, which is something.

My personal guess is that to some degree, unconscious left bias in the media, etc. has a lot to do with this failure of nerve, or of consistency. After all: “Socialists are fundamentally good, Fascists are fundamentally bad. Communists are really just decent people who couldn’t make the economy work, but Nazis are rightwing racists.”


Well here’s today’s awkward fact: “Nazi” is short for “National SOCIALIST German Workers Party”. That word was not put there just for fun, or to confuse. They meant it.

Enough, already,

Happy election day—although I don’t think either Saffron Walden or Suffolk West (where I live) could be considered to be anything close to marginal.

Interesting to note the points of disagreement and agreement in the letters above. While I agree that the National Socialist party did have true socialist elements I must stress that I think the great gulf between any democratic party or politician and totalitarians should always be acknowledged. My admiration of Blair's stand on the Iraq war and my anger at his curtailment of ancient liberties I have discussed in other posts. But as the editor of the Times used to say, "This correspondence is now closed."

Wednesday, May 04, 2005
My election prediction. A much reduced Labour majority. The Conservatives will do better in the popular vote than polls now suggest, but it won't translate into that many more seats. The Lib Dems will gain a few and be insufferable. Remember, you heard it here millionth.

Things too obvious to see. I'm interested in why people make mistakes. So is Anthony Cox, although the sort of mistakes he studies usually have more serious consequences than mine.

One day my friend and I set off to a check out a new branch of IKEA. With what care and concentration did I, as navigator, trace our route through the highways and byways, bringing us at last to the fabled blue edifice. My curses turned the air blue when I noticed that plastered across the top of the very map over which my head had been bent so low, in a type size suitable for a headline announcing the invasion of Poland, were the words "NEW STORE OPENING ON..." followed by a date two weeks into the future.

We both felt that it was inconsiderate of IKEA to write that bit in print so big that any normal person would assume it was a special offer.

I thought of all this today while sniffing the brake pedal of my car. I do not do this for pleasure. It was all part of an attempt to open the bonnet. In the good old days all my cars where full of character, in the iron oxide sense of the word. Of course I knew how to open their bonnets; even when they didn't oblige by doing it spontaneously on the M11, they were always going wrong and I was always peering into the footwell to find whatever recycled impaling-stick the manufacturers had deemed the most amusing means to unlock the interior. What threw me this time was that, the car being (as my cars go) fairly new, the bonnet was opened by an enormous bright red lever placed directly under the steering wheel. Deceivers! I'd always thought that was the ejector button.

Should we ban the BNP? JEM writes:

Here's what Niemöller actually said, which was in fact a poem. In German, of course:

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie die Juden holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Jude.

Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr, der protestierte.

Accurate translation:

As the Nazis took the Communists,
I stayed silent;
I was no Communist.

As they locked up the Social Democrats,
I stayed silent;
I was no Social Democrat.

As they took the trade unionists,
I made no protest;
I was no trade unionist.

As they took the Jews,
I made no protest;
I was no Jew.

As they took me,
there was no-one left to protest.

So Pete James is quite right about the order-- Communists first, Jews (second) last.

We were obliged to learn this poem, in German of course, during our school German classes. (They didn't bother teaching me French. Somehow, I have coped.)

When a few years ago I visited Am Grossen Wannsee 56, which is a rather fine looking lake-side villa (now a museum) in a beautiful leafy suburb on the S-Bahn just southwest of Berlin, it was truly difficult to believe that such a lovely place could be the birthplace of the Holocaust. But here in early 1942 was held the Wannsee Conference that established Jewish extermination to be the secret national policy of the Third Reich, under the auspices of Heydrich and the SS.

Two things echoed around my mind as I visited the rooms of that villa.

One was Arendts memorable phrase after the Eichmann trial, of the 'banality of evil'. Of course Eichmann had been present at the Wannsee Conference as Heydrich's SS sidekick.

And the other was Niemöller's poem.

Which brings us back to the National Front. In Germany today, the Nazi Party, Nazi organisations (starting with the SS but also many more) and Nazi insignia--swastikas, and so forth-- are prohibited under criminal law. Also banned can be other organizations that are deemed by the courts to be fronts for extremists of a fascist persuasion.

Has this been a bad thing? Although it impinges on freedom of speech, on balance I don't think so; certainly not in the particular circumstances of post war Germany. Is it still justified today? In the German context, I think so certainly.

So, would a similar prohibition be right for our own home-grown National Front?

On the face of it, absolutely not; it would play right into their hands, drives then underground setting up replacement organizations that are not banned, and in general provide them with the biggest recruitment opportunity they have ever had.

But suppose the NF grows anyway, to the point of becoming a serious threat to freedom and democracy? Ultimately, in that situation, there would be a choice between banning it (which again would play into their hands, but on a much greater and dangerous scale) or sitting back and allowing all we are supposed to hold dear be swept away. In other words, it would be far too late to ban them by that time.

So, should we bite the bullet now, after all?

My short answer has to be no, not just on the grounds (very probable grounds though they are) that banning them would help them recruit, nor even on the grounds that once the State had banned them it would, as Niemöller's poem suggests, be emboldened to ban UKIP and/or RESPECT, but on the grounds that everyone should have freedom of thought simply because they are human.

That said, there are obviously some infringements on freedom of thought that outrage me less than others. The ban on Nazi activity in Germany just after WWII - well, it was just going to happen, that's all, and is no more to be complained of than the fact that a man who has just fought off a lethal attack keeps a knee to the neck of his downed assailant. No way were the Allies going to allow their enemies to reorganize having just defeated them at such ruinous cost.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Selective law enforcement directed at the BNP. Pete James writes:
Hi ,
You might want to hold your nose and go here [Link to British National Party site] and watch 6 minutes odd of video shot of the Manchester police 'dealing' with a BNP vehicle. What we're talking about here is a cherrypicker - one of those erectable platforms used to change streetlight bulbs- mounted on the back of a truck and adorned with BNP banners. The police have stopped the vehicle and force the driver to remove the advertising.

The question I'm asking is why?

OK the driver or the vehicle may have committed a traffic offence. Any copper worth his salt can prove anybody's committed a traffic offence - even a 3 y.o. in a pedal car. But what's that got to do with election material? I can't see that they're doing anything the other parties don't do. Earlier today I was following a Haringey Council minibus, yellow & black with the lightning bolt on the side plastered with Labour Party stickers. I'm pretty sure that's illegal, using a council vehicle for party electoral purposes, but in this Peoples Republic who would I complain to?

Anyway, back to the BNP. Watch the vid and see if you can work out what's going on. Taxation class of vehicle?- but I've seen farm tractors used in canvassing and don't tell me they drain out all the red diesel and refill at the garage pump because of the VAT issue.

I keep thinking of this quote from Pastor Martin Niemöller

'First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did little. Then when they came for me, there was no one left to stand up for me.' (Incidentally as far as I can ascertain this is the actual quote, some versions put the Jews first)

It just makes me feel very, very uncomfortable. This is a legal party, whatever else may be said about it. This is s'posed to be a democracy. I don't suppose we are exactly enamoured of Gorgeous George but we wouldn't want Respect hassled by the Met would we?

I couldn't make the media player thingy work, but, as you all know, that's not exactly unusual for me. Nothing would suprise me less than to see the police seeking to win favour with the government and the Guardian-reading classes by hassling the BNP. Rod Liddle (the journalist and former editor of Radio 4's Today programme who has me cursing and cheering in equal amounts but who cannot be credibly presented as a closet fascist) has written well in the Spectator on a related topic. Some time ago the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, was arrested for making speeches that said that... er, actually, not even the cops arresting him could clearly put their finger on what words of his broke the law. His words were just generally offensive, they said. They probably were, but that's not the point. As Rod Liddle said:
... don’t you suspect that this was precisely a politically motivated and, indeed, directed operation which will, in the end, do nothing to improve race relations and only ensured that a few more burglars and other such recidivists, who are a genuine menace to the public, were able to go about their business unhindered because of the priorities of this government? Would West Yorkshire police have spent so much time and effort on the case had it not been for political involvement from — as that errant officer put it — ‘higher than that’?
"Higher than that" means the Home Office, the government department concerned with ensuring the laws are enforced without fear or favour.

Mollycoddled Miss. Yay to this post from Hrairoo of Silflay Hraka, addressed to that American woman who made up a whole bunch of lies to cover up wedding day cold feet:
You want to report your escape as a kidnapping, complete with perp descriptions and a blue van? Interesting. The intelligence graph of your choices is taking on a noticable downward trend. You have now graduated from "panicked moron" to "panicked moron criminal."

If you have done these things, you should now be arrested and prosecuted for falsely reporting a crime and making false statements. You should not be coddled. You should not be cuddled. You should not be the beneficiary of the bizarre sympathy expressed by the Albequerque police, who think that criminals should be shown some sort of soft glove treatment if they are "in crisis."

It used to be the custom that if the best man failed in his duty to ensure that the groom was both present and sober on the church steps on the day of the wedding, then he had to marry the bride himself. I can't remember if the parallel duty fell to the maid of honour, but it should.

Put Not Thy Trust in Princes, Part MMDCCCLXIX. That leading light of redistribution from rich to poor, the government of Zimbabwe, celebrates May Day by breaking up trade union meetings. That leading light of toleration ("Tolerance must extend to those of all faiths and practices" - Prince Abdullah), the government of Saudi Arabia, arrests Pakistanis for the crime of Christian worship.

Monday, May 02, 2005
"Can we talk about this later?" says the EU...

Tim Worstall examines a nice bit of political manipulation and news management on the part of the EU. I never read this sort of post without thinking, this is the future they want for us. However EU skulduggery about textiles was not the only thing that prompted the title of this post.

...and answers, No.

The mighty Worstall content fountain also, of course, hosts the Britblog roundup. One of the roundees-up (roundup-ees?) is this post from the EU serf, which (honest guv) I had noticed independently but hadn't had time to blog. The Serf quotes an article in Forbes Magazine, "Liberty, European-style" by Dan Seligman. Frighteningly it seems that a perfectly natural and unforced reading of the EU constitution might forbid discussion of measures to change what it defines as rights. The EU constitution says:

"Nothing in this Charter shall be interpreted as implying any right to engage in any activity … aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognized in this Charter or at their limitation."
Seligman writes:
This seems highly problematic. If someone were to mount a campaign favoring the death penalty, or opposing collective bargaining, or opposing preferences for women, or limiting the options of asylum-seekers, this would plainly constitute an effort to destroy rights recognized in the Charter--an activity characterized as an "abuse of rights" and therefore prohibited. The Bruges Group, a think tank in London, has published an essay arguing this case. The essay was written by Brian Hindley, a British economist, and was endorsed (in a prefatory note) by Oliver Letwin, who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Tory "shadow cabinet."
An EU spokesman on cultural issues called this argument "nonsense." I am not reassured. Many a time we have been promised before a new abridgement of liberty is made law that it would only be used against obvious nutters and evildoers but that has not been the case. To take an obvious and only apparently trivial example, if someone had said at the time of the 1972 referendum on the EU that one day the law would be turned on humble market stallholders if they sold fruit in pounds and ounces then the speaker would have been denounced as a paranoid fantasist.